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Throw us a bone

Fri, Sep 27th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Eric Leitzen

Yes, it’s time once again for me to talk about those confusing young whippersnappers born between 1981 and the year 2000. I know it seems like I harp on this a lot, but as an unofficial representative from this age group, I figure I might as well write what I know. So fire up your iPhones and get ready to totally, like, LOL, because we’re going in.

This time, we’ll talk about Millennials in the workplace…or not, as the case often is. Yes, while it’s not quite as bad as some other countries (The pain in Spain stays mainly between 50-60 percent for youth unemployment) we still have significant numbers of unemployment and, most crucially, underemployment for America’s youth.

If we run the numbers, May 2013 clocked in at 3.2 million unemployed, which is about 3 percent of the total population and hovering around 30 percent for the age group. For reference, unemployment rates for the whole country never got above 25 percent during the Great Depression. There are several thoughts as to why this is the case, from both sides of the aisle, but it is what it is. Teenagers can’t get those classic teenager jobs, and twenty-somethings are begging for them. Situations like this make people frustrated, maybe even angry, but let’s take a quick look inside the mind of your average Millennial and see how it all breaks down.

There is a lot of ire, and some well-deserved criticism, about how the Millennials were raised in the “everybody gets a trophy” environment. As such, I’ve heard a lot leveled at me and my own that we expect too much too fast, and that we have far too much of a sense of entitlement. While that is certainly true in some cases, I think there is a far more difficult answer to this phenomenon in others.

Humans can be fairly simple animals. We like to be rewarded; it makes us feel good. We like to be told when we do something right, and often get something for our hard work. It is what we heard all the time growing up: work hard, pay your dues, study, keep your nose clean, and you’ll get rewarded. With that, of course, came the other side of the argument: slack off, get in trouble, fail out of school, and you will be punished. It’s a fairly simple setup, and possibly the sort of setup that formed a foundation of this country. Generations prior expected that there would be room for advancement and earning potential at whatever job they took, and if there wasn’t - well, that was their fault for choosing a dead-end job.

So what happens when a group continues to do good, but no reward comes? More than that, what happens when a group continues to do what they have been doing...and there is no response whatsoever? Imagine the confusion: we haven’t been doing anything different, and if pressed we’ll be told we haven’t been doing anything wrong…so why aren’t we being rewarded? And if we’re not being rewarded, why aren’t we being punished? We’re not looking for a handout or to be “rewarded” a job title beyond our experience. We’re looking for a little feedback so we know what to fix, what to change, and what to keep on doing. After so many years of rules and expectations, to hear nothing is almost deafening.

Try to think of it this way the next time Millennials make the news. Our age group was one of the first raised on the current system of constant assessment - good, bad, or otherwise, we were continuously given benchmarks for behavior and standards, and told where we fit. We were also the first generation to have “helicopter parents” who were always there, also giving constant feedback. Curiously, the flow of feedback has all but dried up, and we are parched for response, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. We just want to make sure that someone out there is listening. Think of us like the Baby Boomers in the 60s, just as frustrated and craving to be heard. At this point, even someone telling us we’ve done everything wrong would be a welcome relief, because then there would be somewhere to go. Right now, we’re just 3.2 million puppies expecting either a Beggin’ Strip or a rolled up newspaper, and those in charge seem too busy watching Duck Dynasty to care whether we do a backflip or make a mess on the carpet. That’s no way to train someone, or something, particularly not the generation that’s going to decide your nursing home.

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